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New life ahead for utility building

LR structure to be updated as ‘collaborative workspace’ by Noel Oman | March 30, 2021 at 2:03 a.m.
Investors John Flake (from left), James Hendren and David Payne talk about their future vision on Monday, March 29, 2021, for the AP&L building in Little Rock they recently purchased. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

An investment group headed by long-time developer John Flake has acquired the former headquarters of Arkansas Power & Light Co. in downtown Little Rock with plans to modernize the historic building and market it as a "collaborative workspace building" that will be safe in a post-covid-19 environment.

The price tag for the purchase and redevelopment cost is in the range of $9 million to $10 million, Flake said Monday afternoon after the sale had closed earlier in the day.

The building at East Ninth and South Louisiana streets opened in 1959 and, according to the Society of Architecture Historians, is considered the city's first large International Style building and one of the most intact examples of its 1950s architecture. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Which is partly why Flake said the AP&L building project is more exciting for him than, say, developing the 40-story Simmons Bank building in downtown Little Rock in the 1980s.

"And it's one of the few times when you get an opportunity to re-develop in the heart of your business district," he said.

Flake is the chief real estate adviser for Flake & Co., a commercial real estate firm founded by his daughter, Jessica Flake Dearnley. He previously was founder and chairman of Flake & Kelley.

Flake's investment group also includes James Hendren, the former chief executive officer of Arkansas Systems Inc., and David Payne, chief financial officer for the Curtis Stout Co.

Flake also touts the project as the first in Little Rock to be developed post-covid-19 pandemic.

"This is the first project that I know that is post-covid," he said. "We are centering everything around this building that you can think of that is post-covid."

The redevelopment will be a model for building technology.

"This building will include leading technology with lighting and ionization solutions that will keep employees and tenants safe," Payne said in a news release.

Many offices were closed for weeks and even months as businesses directed employees to work from home to help contain the spread of the virus, Payne said.

And in a nod to its roots as the headquarters for an electric utility, Flake said the investors plan to make it as energy efficient as possible.

The four-story, almost 50,000 square foot structure will feature office, conference room and common spaces on each floor.

A restaurant will occupy space on the first floor along with an 8,500-square foot common lobby. There will also be outdoor areas specially designed for meetings and seating.

The redevelopment project will be attractive to younger workers who prefer working, living and playing in downtown core urban areas that re-purpose older buildings, Flake said.

"This is an exciting project that we believe will infuse even more energy into downtown Little Rock," Flake said in a statement. "This will be a collaborative workspace building that will include amenities found to be attractive to many types of businesses from law firms to technology."

Flake has had his eye on the building for a while.

"It wasn't on the market," he said. "It was a private sale. I was in contact with the sellers in New York. They indicated they wanted to liquidate the property."

Entergy Arkansas, the successor to Arkansas Power & Light, will finally cut its ties to the building after more than 60 years. It sold the building to an East Coast investment fund, Coral Gables Trust, years ago and has been leasing it to the fund.

"Our employees will vacate it sometime this summer, and most will move to the Simmons Bank building -- where the majority of our administrative personnel have their offices," Brandi Hinkle, the utility's spokeswoman, said in an email. "Others will be put in different shops and centers we have, based on their department."

The building's namesake will live on in the giant "energy ball" atop the roof , a landmark easily seen from nearby Interstate 630. Flake said he plans to leave it there.

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